I wasn't able to find any suitable meaning for 'break down on' in any dictionary. From context I would say I should be 'relates to' or 'concerns', but that was not mentioned in any dictionary. Can anyone help me explain this?

Here is the text (it's from a podcast):

DUBNER: That is really the basis of his argument – which is that most smokers want to quit, but can’t, and to refuse to hire them is therefore discriminatory or at least unethical.

RYSSDAL: Does this break down on socioeconomic lines? Is there a low-income, low-wage worker versus high-wage, high-income person thing?

2 Answers 2


break down TFD

  1. To divide into or consider in parts; analyze. To be divisible; admit of analysis: The population breaks down into three main groups.

Another common term of late is to unpack.

  1. To elucidate or interpret (the meanings implicit in an utterance or text, for example).

The relevant sense of the multi-word verb is given by The Farlex Dictionary of Idioms:

break down 6. verb To methodically explain something step by step. In this usage, a noun can be used between "break" and "down."

Can you break down the healthcare proposal to me? I'm not very well informed about it.

Here, the usage is a 'middle' one, and a paraphrase is 'When one analyses this, does it become apparent that the reasons are socio-economic?'

  • 1
    The phrase used here was not merely break down but break down on. Doesn’t that indicate that something more precise was intended? Possible paraphrase: Do the previously mentioned divisions among people coincide with socio-economic divisions (i.e. with the breaks among socio-economic categories)?
    – jsw29
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 17:14
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    No; you're analysing this wrongly. First, look at the title question. Then accept that '... breaks down on socioeconomic lines' corresponds to '... breaks down along these lines' and '... breaks down in this way': the prepositional phrase is not part of a 'phrasal verb'. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 22:02
  • 1
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2613326 Those with schizophrenia tend to be on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 1:24

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